QAB Book Review: “Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession” by Alison Weir

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American Cover
As an American, I get it. We always want to be first in everything. Thus, despite the fact that the release of Alison Weir’s newest novel Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession will appropriately launch in the United Kingdom at a special celebratory event at Hever Castle on May 18th, the day prior to the anniversary of Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution, the American publisher Ballantine Books is releasing the novel today.
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Are you kidding me? Somehow it seems a bit unfair that people in Oklahoma and Idaho will be diving into Alison’s portrayal of the fascinating, exciting and ultimately tragic life of Queen Anne Boleyn before people in Essex and Sussex — but what would I know? I just own and administer a website with the domain name www.queenanneboleyn.com.
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My whining is complete. British authors have no control over what we Americans choose to do with their writing, so it is time to move on to Alison’s second novel in her “Six Tudor Queens” book series, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. Based largely upon Alison’s near life-long exhaustive research, the novel is written from Queen Anne Boleyn’s point-of-view (3rd person narration).
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As Alison’s reading in the video above clearly illustrates, Anne Boleyn is crafted as a brilliant, complicated, driven, and passionate woman. Mentored early in life by Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude of France, and perhaps most profoundly Marguerite of Navarre, Alison’s Anne jumps off the page as a “woman with a mission”, sometimes gentle-spirited and charitable, other times cruel to the extreme — always compelling.
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Will you recognize Alison’s crafting of Anne Boleyn? Well, that would depend on whether you have read Alison’s published conclusions from her research. If so, whether you agree with Alison or not, the Anne Boleyn of Alison’s novel will be familiar to you indeed. This holds true of all of the historical figures who make appearances in the novel. If you are seeking “plot spoilers” and hints to how the characters are crafted, simply head right on over to Alison’s non-fiction. It’s all right there. The fiction instead lies in how Alison adeptly “fills in all the blanks”. I suppose if you disagree with Alison’s historical conclusions, you could label that fiction, as well… but any and all debate falls within the scope of academic historical research, not a review of literature.
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As the title of the novel suggests, King Henry VIII is crafted as becoming alarmingly obsessed with Anne Boleyn, a conclusion Alison discusses at length in her non-fiction work. Stating this right up front is certainly no plot spoiler. In fact, with the notable exceptions of Thomas Cranmer and Henry Norris, the male characters in the novel are painted with a dark palate. As was common in the 16th century, the physical, sexual, emotional and financial dominance of women by men permeates the novel’s plot.
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Anne Boleyn’s navigation through the muddy waters of 16th-century male dominance throughout her life and tragic fall in large measure highlights Anne as a truly heroic figure. Though her ultimate fate carries Anne Boleyn to the very heights of female victimization, her drive to become Queen of England rather than a court mistress, as well as her influence upon King Henry VIII’s decision to separate from the papacy and the resulting Henrican Reformation, reshaped the face of England forever. This shines forefront in Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, as is abundantly deserved of Anne Boleyn’s legacy to English History.
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Beyond Alison’s crafting of her Anne Boleyn, I was totally enthralled by the story-telling of Anne’s early life, as well as the crafting of her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn (too often short-shifted), Margaret of Austria, Queen Claude of France, and Marguerite of Navarre. Knowing Alison’s characterizations of these delightful women was largely based on her research, I was left with a desire to learn far more about them. Alison also commendably highlights how the mentoring of dynamic women shape the character and life decisions of the younger women whose lives they touch. This stated I was also struck by just how isolated and alone Anne Boleyn became as an adult, this dynamic shaped pointedly throughout the remaining plot.
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If you are seeking a light historical romance for a spring or summer beach read, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession, is not the book for you. In fact, you might be quite surprised by how Alison crafts Anne and Henry’s relationship, as well as Anne’s relationship with her daughter Princess Elizabeth. (For more information on Alison’s thoughts of Anne Boleyn as a mother, do visit our friends at On The Tudor Trail, Retracing the Steps of Anne Boleyn.)
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Let’s face it. We can’t blame all steadfast, controversial, or passionate views of English History solely on those pesky Ricardians. For those of us fascinated by the life of Queen Anne Boleyn or Tudor History in general, we are quite set upon our own opinions of history, as well.
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Did Anne and Henry love each other? If no, who did Anne love? Was Anne a good mother? Just how cruel, if at all, was Anne toward Catherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary? How reliable a source is Eustace Chapuys anyway? Was George Boleyn a philandering womanizer? Just how nasty was Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford? Did Thomas Boleyn prostitute his daughters to gain an advantage with the king? Did “the other Boleyn boys” Henry and Thomas die in early childhood or later in life? Just how many kings did Mary Boleyn have sex with anyway? Was Catherine Carey Knollys’ biological father King Henry VIII or Sir William Carey? Was Mark Smeaton tortured? Was Henry or Thomas Cromwell behind Anne’s fall? Or were they in cahoots with one another? Who wrote “Anne’s last letter from the tower”? Is the letter real or an elaborate forgery? Was Anne’s “final poem” an elaborate forgery as well?
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The questions are endless, each resulting not only in our spirited disagreements of opinion but also those of prominent novelists and eminent historians, many who grace this website. With this acknowledged straight up front, dive right into Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. Alison’s rich and vibrant story-telling will get us all discussing once again the life of Queen Anne Boleyn, as well as the lives of those she touched, sharing our opinions and debating the facts of what is known and what can’t be known.
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Enjoy the journey.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Weir

Alison Weir is the United Kingdom’s most popular and best selling female historian. Alison’s first published work, Britain’s Royal Families, introduced the world to the now recognized genre of  “popular history”, and her sales tell the story. Readers purchased more than 2.3 million books, over 1,000,000 in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,300,000 books in the United States. Rich in detailed research, Alison’s engaging prose captured the interest and imaginations of countless people, instilling a love of history that influenced the career paths of historical fiction writers, historians, and teachers, while also greatly increasing knowledge of medieval English history among people throughout the world. For more information on Alison Weir, visit her websites at ALISON WEIR: U.K. HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR and ALISON WEIR TOURS.

BOOKS BY ALISON WEIR

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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